Sunday, November 23, 2014

Getting on the Bus

The We and The I (2012) - Gondry
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Michel Gondry did a 2 year workshop with teenagers from the Bronx for The We and The I, a one-day-in-the-life-of-real-innercity-teens on screen. It's a unique social experiment that is rarely seen in American cinema. Kids talk like themselves, loud and obnoxious, oblivious to their surroundings. No one in the film is made-up, snapshot-ready pretty. And all of it takes place inside a public bus.

It's the last day of the school before the summer recess, and about 30 High School kids gets on the MTA bus to go home. They bully people out of their seat, gossip incessantly, furiously texting into their blackberries, exchange funny youtube videos, make guest lists for parties, flirt and fight. There is a hierarchy even in seating arrangement inside the bus. Asshole bullies all the way in the back, then cluster of other cliques scattered through out. There are gay kids, popular girls, artistic kids who always draw in their sketchbooks, musicians and so on. As they intermingle with each other, playing unending musical chairs, the ever mobile camera jumps from one chat to another. This overlapping cacophony of interactions are like old Altman movies but given that it's a confined, noisy space, you don't really get to grasp everything they say. There are some Gondry moments but he keeps his visual gags to a minimum (for comic relief), only accompanying only small portions of kid's recounting their many stories and anecdotes.

Things become a little more coherent as kids get off (or kicked out) at their destinations or middle of the road. The rhythm kind of settles and the meat of the story emerges: Teresa and Michael, once a couple but not anymore, she not attending school at the moment and he the part of asshole/bully clique. Without sentimentalizing, Gondry observes their insecurities and misunderstandings and finds gems in the rough. Much more real than Laurent Cantet's The Class, partly because the absence adults save for the no non-sense, tough as a nail bus driver, The We and The I is a one of a kind, beautiful observation that's all about kids.

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